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Senate Democrats are fighting a Federal Communications Commission proposal that could lower America’s broadband standards by redefining what counts as broadband Internet access.
Under standards imposed during the Obama administration, the FCC says that all Americans should have access to home Internet service offering speeds of at least 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream, as well as access to mobile Internet. When the FCC makes its annual judgment of whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans quickly enough, the commission thus analyzes whether all parts of the country have both fast home Internet and mobile service.proposal suggests that cellular Internet could be counted as a full substitute for home Internet access rather than a complement to it. Moreover, his proposal suggests that mobile wouldn’t even have to meet the 25/3Mbps speed standard—instead, a 10Mbps/1Mbps mobile connection could suffice.
By lowering the standards, the FCC could conclude that America’s broadband problem has been solved and thus take fewer steps to promote deployment and competition.
Consumers and Democrats object
Consumers already bashed the FCC plan by filing comments starting in early August, and 12 Democratic senators joined them in protest in a letter to the FCC on Thursday.
“[T]he Commission appears ready to decide that mobile broadband could be a substitute, rather than a complement, to fixed broadband service and that slower-speed mobile service substitutes as effectively,” the senators wrote. While mobile broadband might one day evolve to be the equivalent of fixed Internet services such as cable and fiber, “that is not the case today,” they wrote.
The letter continued:
At this time, such a striking change in policy would significantly and disproportionately disadvantage Americans in rural, tribal, and low-income communities across the nation, whose livelihoods depend on a reliable and affordable broadband connection… In reading this notice of inquiry, it appears that the FCC, by declaring mobile service of 10Mbps download/1Mbps upload speeds sufficient, could conclude that Americans’ broadband needs are being met—when in fact they are not. By redefining what it means to have access, the FCC could abandon further efforts to connect Americans, as under this definition, its statutory requirement would be fulfilled. We believe that mobile broadband service cannot adequately support the same functions as does fixed service currently and, therefore, cannot be a substitute at this time. A small business owner who wants to begin a new venture today would not be adequately supported by mobile-only service. Should the decision to change current policy be made with the technology currently available, it would signal a strong departure from the Commission’s mission, while also implying that certain consumers must accept lower-quality connectivity.
The letter was written by Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). It was sent to Pai and the other four commissioners.
The FCC is taking initial comments from the public on its plan until Thursday, September 7, while reply comments are due September 22. The senators argued that more time is needed and asked for a 30-day extension.extended the comment deadline today, allowing for initial comments until September 21 and reply comments until October 6.)
Previously, Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn objected to the proposed re-definition, saying that “mobile and fixed broadband are complements, not substitutes.”